Imaginary Lines: The Problem With Our Borders

Have you ever stopped to think about just how unnatural the ever-shifting borders that carve the globe into separate countries are? If you’ve ever shown a map to a five-year-old, you may know what I am talking about. “Why is our country colored pink and this one colored green? Why is that one yellow?” You explain the countries aren’t actually pink or green or yellow in real life, but they’re colored that way on the map so it’s easy to see where the borders are. “But what are borders?” Borders mark where one country ends and another begins. “How does a country end or begin?” That just means all of the land in the yellow part is part of this country, and all of the land in the pink part is that country. The people who were born in the yellow country are expected to work and live there for their whole lives, and the same is true for people in the other countries. “But that’s so sad. What if the people in the pink country like the yellow country better? What if their family is over there?” Well, sometimes people are able to move to a different colored country, but it can be a tough process. “They should just be able to walk on over… Who decides where the borders are and who gets to cross them?” Sigh.

As this line of questioning continues, you are reminded that it is so easy for us, as American adults, to forget that geo-political borders and all that they signify exist only in our imaginations. Immigration laws, green card applications, detainment centers, passport renewals and political battles regarding all of the aforementioned were created as a result of these arbitrary dividing lines. When we cross a border, it is easy for our adult minds to be tricked into thinking of it as a “real” thing in the same way the mountain range straddling that invisible line is real. We take the existence of borders for granted simply because we’ve always been told they are real, and the borders with our neighbors have remained unchanged during our lifetimes.

In reality, they are not real. In fact, while I can say with all certainty this will not happen in the foreseeable future, it is entirely possible that all of the borders dividing all of the countries all over this world could be erased in a single day.

In a sense, we are hostages of the countries in which we are born, held captive by artificial borders. We are not asked if we would like to be a citizen of the nation in which we’re born. We do not decide whether or not we want to pay taxes to this country. We are not allowed to travel outside the country without paying fees and filing paperwork, and we are not allowed to renounce citizenship without paying quite the ransom (currently $450 plus an expatriation tax which can equal up to 42% of a person’s total assets, depending on income).

Of course, it has not always been this way in the U.S. Before the arrival of Europeans, most Native American tribes did not have concepts of land ownership or borders. Land couldn’t belong to any one group any more than air or sunlight could. Many Indian tribes were used to sharing territory with other tribes they were at peace with. Meanwhile, tribes who were at war often pushed their borders back and forth several times a year. Some tribes were semi-nomadic or seasonally migrational, so the same band might not even occupy the same location all year long.

Today, the U.S. is continuing a tradition of persecution against indigenous peoples by enforcing American borders that divide tribes living on both sides. From Indigenous Alliance Without Borders’ website: Indigenous peoples are not immigrants but we must comply with immigration and border enforcement policies implemented in the U.S.-Mexico border. Culturally-affiliated Indigenous peoples reside on either side of the border.  

Our ceremonial leaders, educators, family members and relatives have the right to safe passage across borders for purposes of cultural, spiritual and ceremonial exchange. The passing on of our cultures, languages, and knowledge to our youth is impeded by our lack of mobility across borders.From Texas to California, Yaqui, O’odham, Cocopah and Kickapoo cross the international border to visit family members and attend ceremonies. The Yaqui, O’odham and Cocopah have lived here, in the Sonoran Desert, since time immemorial. “We feel we are one family. We have no borders,” said Fidelia Suarez, Yaqui from the village of Bacum, Mexico, representing the Traditional Council of Indigenous Nations in the northwest state of Sonora.

Tribes directly affected by the U.S.-Mexico border include: ​Pascua Yaqui, Yaqui in Mexico, Tohono O’odham, Tohono O’odham in Mexico, Cocopah, Pima, Gila River, Akimel O’odham, Pai Pai, Kumeyaay, Lipan Apache, Jumano-Apache, Quechan, TIgua, Kickapoo, Mescalero Apache and Hualapai.

In the U.S.-Mexico-Canada region, we must recognize that “illegal” immigration is a modern invention that is inconsistent with our reality. The English and Spanish brought their wars and divisions, but these divisions have never worked in the Americas.

At Margaret A. Donnelly, P.C., we are immigration attorneys because we want to empower tribes, families and individuals who are struggling to create the lives they want, in spite of imaginary borders that threaten to hold them back. We do not believe borders should separate members of the same tribe or family. We strive to unite loved ones and protect sacred and ancient traditions. We stand with groups such as the Indigenous Alliance Across Borders, who are fighting for the seamless unification of neighboring countries.

Please contact us today if you have immigration questions and would like to schedule a consultation.

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